Getting rid of the original mouse

If recent reports of vermin in a favourite eatery have you confined to the kitchen, the Web may soon be your best entertainment guide.

New York City’s Department of Health recently launched a new search engine on their Web site, The Restaurant Inspection, Recording and Reporting System (RIRRS). It allows anyone to look up a favourite restaurant and see the results of the last inspection of the establishment.

Nick Losito, director of environmental health for the Vancouver-Richmond Health Board, said some Canadian urban centres are bound to follow suit. He thought Vancouver may have a site up and running in the new year. They currently post any closures on their Web site.

“We do need to get the [restaurant] industry on side and we need some direction from our health board and the Ministry of Health that they’re OK with this,” Losito said.

He noted costs and staffing implications will be other factors, but he suggested Jan. 1, 2001 as a possible launch date.

Losito said the New York Web site ( was pretty interesting, and liked the fact that it may help the public make informed choices about where they want to dine.

Edward Carubis, assistant commissioner of management information services for the New York City Department of Health, said the City of Toronto has also shown interest.

He said he’s had many requests for information about this kind of site. Carubis noted the site, which went live May 17, has had more than one million hits in the first 48 hours. At peak it sustains about 1,000 users an hour.

Although the peak hours are between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., there is some heavy traffic on evenings and weekends, which led Carubis to believe tourists are using the Web site as well as residents.

He added this is a move towards making public health information more accessible. “It’s really the first step in changing the way the Department of Health and the city provide resources to the public,” Carubis said. “We’d like to give more community information and maybe have the ability to compare to other communities or find national trend data.”

RIRRS is powered by an Information Builders Inc. system, and IBI president and CEO Gerry Cohen said at a recent conference that this site is delivering information the public is beginning to expect from the Web.

“This is a very simple-looking application, but with an amazing amount of information for people to look at,” he said.

The Web-enabled data is built on WebFOCUS and information from RIRRS can be delivered via this system to wireless devices. RIRRS will provide users with more than inspection results – it tells how food is prepared, where and how food is stored and if the restaurant has ever been closed.

Losito cautioned that before any cities add a search vehicle like RIRRS, restaurateurs need to know about it.

“In fact we have a meeting this week (with local restaurant owners),” he said. “We’re sensing they are open to posting to a Web site [but] there are concerns about scoring systems.”

Losito added the health board would have to look at what gets posted and what doesn’t. He noted they would probably start with any inspection that falls below a certain score. He also said they wouldn’t want to drag up a lot of dirty laundry, so it would probably start from a certain date and go from there.

Vancouver will soon be one step closer to this type of Web site. They are upgrading their current system from a mainframe to one that has the ability to export files to many different formats, including HTML.

If the site works, Losito stated it could help the board of health clean up the restaurants that are marginal and close down the ones who are not cleaning up. “It raises the profile of having to maintain clean restaurants.”

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